Growing crops in controlled environments – in greenhouses, plant factories and in vertical farms – provides alternatives to conventional farming by producing food year-round near metropolitan areas, reducing transportation costs and water use, and improving land-use efficiency. Such local systems also offer valuable educational and psychological benefits by connecting urban people to the food they consume.
At the same time, there is little concrete evidence to show how so-called controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) compares to conventional field agriculture in terms of energy, carbon and water footprints, profitability, workforce development and scalability.
Cornell will lead a project to answer these questions, thanks to a three-year, $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation, through its new funding initiative called Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems.
“By putting all these pieces together – including energy, water, workforce development and economic viability – we hope to discover if CEAs make sense for producing food for the masses,” said Neil Mattson, the grant’s principal investigator and associate professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science.